I’m interested in the technical concept of full-body immersion and motion-based virtual worlds, and I know that I’d like to explore this challenge for my physical computing final project. I had considered pursuing a full-body burqa wearing experience as my final project installation with immersive video and audio, however I think that is an idea that I would prefer to develop in my second year or thesis project. Full-body immersion is a popular topic on the tech scene right now, what with Microsoft releasing the Kinect for the XBox 360 and the recent hacks that have appeared, like the Adafruit ‘Open Kinect’ contest.

In the HCI space, my current research interests are focused on the emotional and social effects of physical movements in gaming and virtual worlds, and the application of organic materials as digital media controllers.

I also love playing video games, and have been thinking about how to incorporate my passion for video games into my physical computing projects. This summer when I was staying with my grandparents in Oklahoma, I played the Bass Pro Shop ‘The Strike’ video fishing game for the Wii. I was enchanted with the hands-on reel controller, a motion-controlled fishing pole with an accelerometer that senses every jerk, hook set, and even reel resistance. The game graphics display very realistic lake locations and 3D fishing environments that mirror some of North America’s most popular competitive fishing spots.

With these memes in mind, I brainstormed with my teammates about what kind of impact we wanted our visitors to feel when they participated in our installation. We want to create an experience for people that will be calming and relaxing, and hopefully one that will transport them to a magical place.

I thought back to my rowing days in college when I was a coxswain on Stanford’s women’s rowing team. One of the most peaceful moments I have ever experienced in my life is rowing across the San Francisco Bay in the crisp, cool air of early morning and watching the oars push through the glassy water as the sun rises. This experience is very soothing, and fills my soul with hope for the beautiful day that is about to begin. I would love to be able to recreate this experience for people in a physically interactive way.

beautiful sunrise over water

My teammates, Alvin Chang and Ginny Hung, each had their own personal ways of connecting to the project as well, and we were able to formulate a pretty clear plan right away of what we wanted to achieve while working together.

Our team developed the ‘Channels’ project, a full-body immersion installation in which you can navigate through a virtual water scene by sitting in a boat and physically interacting with real water.

Our installation will enable visitors to perform a physical activity in order to move in a virtual space. We would like to give the user the illusion of “paddling” or “rowing” through space and time, using the metaphor of water. And we know that we want to use organic controls, like water, and we want to employ intuitive gestures and body movements that are natural in water environments.

In researching these themes on the internet, we found a similar project idea by Bill Gorcica called Rowing through Diatoms, but he used wooden oars to move through the virtual world instead of real water.

Project Pitch
Experience the serenity of nature by moving through scenes of glassy water and early morning mists, as you make your way across a water channel.

What is it?
“Channels” is a full-body immersion installation in which you can navigate through a virtual water scene by physically interacting with tanks of water. Sit in a boat and experience being “on the water” by organically controlling your virtual environment with natural gestures — paddle, row, and float your way through space and time.

Control your environment through physical and organic touch, and transport yourself to a magical place.

Who is it intended for?
People who want to connect to nature, people who want to feel a sense of tranquility and serenity, and people who want to control their environment through physical and organic touch.

How does it work?
Sit down on a boat seat between two water tanks, in front of a projection of a virtual world, and use your hands to paddle in the water. Moving the real water with your hands controls your speed and direction as you explore a virtual water world. The faster you paddle, the faster you will glide forward through the virtual scene. You can also glide backwards in the scene by paddling in reverse. In addition, the left and right water buckets are individually programmed to respond to subtle changes in direction, mimicking the physics of a real boat, so if you paddle more on the left side, your direction will shift right in the virtual scene, and vice-versa.

As you navigate through the 3D world, you hear nature and wildlife sounds and you encounter occasional objects in the water, such as floating ducks, cattails and lily pads, and other objects that you can collide with and paddle around, such as a bridge, trees, rocks, and logs. Along the way, you can choose whether to paddle closer to these things, or continue on the water without disturbing the natural order. To give you a sense of space in the virtual world, some of the objects, such as birds, fireflies, and fish, naturally fly, flit, or swim across the scene, making you feel truly immersed in a place that is teeming with life.

Design Sketches

Next Steps

1) Decide on visual scene and all objects that will live in our 3D world – produce PNG assets in Photoshop.
2) Iterate on flex sensor design, and explore other options as back up plan.
3) Build a boat, and user test the ideal height measurement of seat + 2 buckets.
4) Write code for serial communications and refine algorithms for speed and direction, taking into account 2 incoming analog sensor values.

Read more about this project’s progress in later blog posts:

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